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Railroad Commission adopts industry recommendations to reduce flaring

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 8/4/2020 Sergio Chapa, Houston Chronicle

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates oil and gas operations in the state, has adopted a series of industry recommendations aimed at reducing flaring, a practice in which excess natural gas is burned at wells.

During the agency's Tuesday meeting, commissioners approved changes to Statewide Rule 32, which oversees regulations for flaring at oil and natural gas wells across the state.

Most flaring is due to placing wells into production before pipelines are in place to move natural gas to market. It is also sometimes necessary when equipment breaks down.

Commissioners adopted a matrix created by the industry-funded Texas Methane and Flaring Coalition to cut the number of days flaring happens before going to a hearing. In their request, operators will now be required to provide more detail about the well and why flaring is being requested.

Report: Flaring wasted $750 million of natural gas in Permian Basin

As part of the process for adopting the new rules, the Railroad Commission has opened 30-day public comment period to discuss the issue before the changes are enacted.

The practice of flaring and the ease of which the Railroad Commission issues permits to allow it have come under fire by environmentalists and others.

On top of blamed on premature births in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas, oil companies operating in the Permian Basin of West Texas burned and wasted a record $750 million worth of natural gas in 2018.

“Industry is quickly moving to a reality where zero routine flaring is the expected operational standard," said Colin Leyden with the Austin office of the Environmental Denfese Fund. "The commission needs to commit to ending routine flaring by 2025, define interim targets, and stop granting long-term flaring exemptions —like the 30 we saw approved today."

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The new rules are being adopted at a time when natural gas production and flaring have been reduced during the ongoing downturn caused by the coronavirus.

Texas wells produced 735 billion cubic feet of natural gas in May, a 13 percent drop compared with the 842 billion cubic feet produced in June 2019, Railroad Commission figures show.

Oil companies flared 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas in May, an 82 percent drop compared with the 19 billion cubic feet burned in June 2019, agency figures show.

Nearly two-thirds of the decrease in the rate of flaring happened between February and May, Railroad Commission data shows.

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